College students begin 4,000-mile bike ride to deliver hope for cancer research
Mere days into their roughly 70-day, 4,000-mile journey to Alaska, dozens of civically-minded University of Texas at Austin student cyclists participating in the Texas 4000 ride made a quick stop in Houston on June 5, 2019 to present checks to Texas Children’s Hospital and the University of Texas MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Center Hospital to support cancer-related programs and research at each institution.
Marlon Bailey, a 2019 Texas 4000 rider and graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin studying for a doctorate in counseling psychology, is riding the Ozarks route this summer to give back to the community.
“Anytime you can do something good, you should,” Bailey said. “This was an opportunity to do something really big and really good. We all have people in our lives who have been affected by cancer so to be able to do something about it is a worthwhile opportunity.”
The Ozark riders delivered a $50,000 check to support work involving circulating tumor cells by Shulin Li, Ph.D., a professor of pediatrics research at MD Anderson.
“Only people who have cancer carry tumor cells in their blood. Some tumors shed off into the blood and that is how tumor metastasis occurs. We have developed the technology to capture tumor cells from the blood to validate whether a patient truly has a tumor cell,” Li said. “I am very grateful to the Texas 4000 riders and the donations they have made to my lab. Their donations are going to generate a tremendous impact down the road to improve our patients’ lives.”
The students also presented a $25,000 check to the Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers to support weekend-long bereavement retreats for Spanish-speaking families.
“Our bereavement camps are for families who have lost a child to cancer and they really give these families a chance to heal,” said ZoAnn Dreyer, M.D., co-director of the Long Term Survivor Program at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers. “We have specialists who come in, other families who have experienced a loss and in the past, and we have had English-speaking camps. But, because such a large portion of our population are purely Spanish speaking, this is such a huge gift for us to be able to give our Spanish-speaking families.”
The Texas 4000 riders gift enabled child-life specialists at Texas Children’s to purchase equipment that facilitates translation at the bereavement camps.
The local institutions among 13 organizations across North America—12 in the United States and one in Canada—to receive grant money at stops along the longest annual charity bike ride in the world.
Texas 4000 was started in 2004 by two University of Texas at Austin students—Chris Condit, a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor, and Mandy Condi—to fight cancer by raising funds to donate to cancer research organizations. Each year, a new group of UT students volunteer not only ride the 4,000 miles, but also participate in an immersive, 18-month community-based program.
During the Texas 4000 journey, the riders split into three groups to make their way to Anchorage through the Sierras, the Rockies and the Ozarks.
Bailey and his team on the Ozarks route will travel through Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota before crossing the international border into Canada before making their way through Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon.
“We go the opposite way first so it seems counter-intuitive at first, but it is actually the part of the country that is most affected by cancer so to have the opportunity to bring hope (to) there is worthwhile,” Bailey said.
The Sierra route takes riders through West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada, then heads north up the California, Oregon and Washington coasts into British Columbia and the Yukon before reaching Alaska. Riders on the Rockies route travel through North Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. The route then heads into the Canadian provinces and territories of Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon before reaching Alaska.
“This seems almost small—dedicating my summer—but it is so small in the grand scheme of the fight against cancer,” Bailey said. “People are dedicating their lives to curing cancer, so this is the least I could do.”